How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Breath? - Health Education - DesiMD Healthcare - India
Health Education

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Breath?

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 18 Mar 2016 - 12:08


Once you drink alcohol, it stays in your bloodstream until it gets flushed out. Excessive consumption can lead to many complications such as impaired vision, coordination, judgement and reaction, resulting in increased drowsiness and accidents. Enjoying a drink or two in a party or a night out is not bad, but has it ever occurred to you as to how long alcohol stays in your body? If you think it’s gone by the next day, think again. Here are some facts that prove that it stays longer than you can guess.

One alcohol serving gets fully absorbed into the blood stream in a span of 30 minutes to 2 hours after consumption. About 10% comes out through breath, urine and sweat, while the remaining gets metabolized or broken down. A new research authorizes a urinary ethyl glucuronide (uEtG) test to detect alcohol consumption accurately. The effects however, differ from one individual to the other, on the basis of the amount of alcohol they drink in each session. BAC or blood alcohol content is one such concept that helps one understand how long alcohol lasts in the body.

1.       Alcohol’s Effect on Breath

Alcohol has a significant effect on one’s breath. Upon consuming alcohol, it is broken down into acetic acid as the body treats it as a toxin. The smell of alcohol comes directly from one’s stomach and hence creates a terrible stench, especially upon belching. It is better to avoid some aromatic drinks like Coffee liqueurs and Tia Maria as they result in bad breath. You could prevent alcohol breath by avoiding drinking too much of alcohol and staying away from liqueurs. The breathalyzer test detects alcohol in the breath for until 24 hours. According to Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, a study conducted by Subir Kumar Das & colleagues reveals, “Breathalysers provide an immediate result, and levels correlate well with blood alcohol. Urine alcohol gives an accurate indication of the BAC at the time the urine was produced.

2.       Factors that Determine Duration of Alcohol in the System

  • Body Mass: When compared to people with heavier weight, fixed alcohol content has a greater effect on those who weigh less, similar to any other drug.
  • Gender: The duration of alcohol is longer in case of women, compared to men. The reason being, women have more fat and less water content in their system than men. Hence, women have higher BAC reading than men, even if they consume smaller alcohol amount.
  • Age: Young people between the age group 20-30 years have the ability to get rid of alcohol very quickly from their systems, in comparison to older people.
  • Time since last drink: A long time gap since you had your last drink will determine a lower blood alcohol content, although you had the same alcohol amount.
  • Other Factors: Various other factors also effect alcohol duration in the body such as type of alcoholic beverage consumed, food intake, food type, etc. Moreover, the absorption, metabolism and excretion of alcohol happen at different rates for different people.

* Did-you-know fact? Ethnicity matters too. For instance, East Asians supposedly have hangovers that last longer when compared to others.

3.  Alcohol Entry and Presence in System - A Flow Chart

Following is a flow-chart that explains what happens when alcohol enters your system and also how long it stays in there –

Few seconds after drinking alcoholic beverage

                   Alcohol enters epithelial layer of skin, closest to the capillaries


                    Alcohol affects cells, which in turn interfere with the nervous system

                  Causes blurred vision and speech


After about 5 minutes, 10% still stays in the stomach, eventually gets expelled out via saliva, sweat and urine


After 20 minutes, 90% alcohol gets into the small intestines, pancreas and liver


At this point, alcohol gets metabolised and absorbed into the bloodstream relatively rapidly


Although you’ve stopped drinking, the alcohol amount continues to rise in your system               


The alcohol-duration-determining factor is how much alcohol has been consumed rather than how long alcohol was consumed and how well it gets broken down.


    4.   Effect of Alcohol on Driving

Here is a chart that shows Blood Alcohol Level, estimated number of beers to get to a specific BAC and its subsequent effect on driving skills. It takes only two beers to get you to .02% BAC, impacting your judgement skills. Three beers make car steering difficult.

                           BAC Levels


.15% (about 7 beers)

Serious difficulty in focusing on driving; difficulty in controlling the car

.10% (about 5 beers)

Slow reaction time; difficulty in judgement skills like staying in same lane, braking when required

.08% (about 4 beers)

Difficulty in speed control, information processing and reasoning abilities

.05% (about 3 beers)

Decreased coordination to track moving objects; steering difficulties

.02% (about 2 beers)

Decreased judgement abilities; trouble in multi-tasking


  1. Interesting Tips to Keep Low BAC Rate

Avoid drinking too much of alcohol. Prefer to drink distilled spirits like gin and vodka, which have lesser lasting hangovers. Here are some vital tips to keep BAC readings low –

  • Alcohol absorption slows down when you eat protein-rich foods alongside drinking. So, avoid drinking alcohol on empty stomach.
  • Don’t just gulp down your drink. Take your time to finish it.
  • Prefer wine or beer as they contain moderate alcohol amounts. When compared to carbonated alcohol like vodka, non-carbonated alcoholic drinks such as beer get slowly absorbed.
  • Avoid drinking contests.
  • Drink soberly. Take juices, non-alcoholic beverages and water in between.
  • Focus on socializing and dancing, rather than getting engrossed in drinking too much. This will control your alcohol intake and your BAC.
  • Undergo a drug test if required, as per your doctor’s advice. 



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